In the wake of increased scrutiny surrounding social media platforms and the information they gather about their users, here’s a peek at how the Instagram algorithm works in 2023.
The conversation around social media algorithms has gotten noticeably louder as state and federal government agencies debate the merits of TikTok. As a result, competitors like Instagram are eager to clarify misconceptions about how the sausage is made in their proverbial factory. Below is a breakdown of Instagram’s announcement on how ranking works across its system in 2023.
Instagram’s Ranking Algorithm in 2023
Instagram has no singular algorithm determining what people do and don’t see on the platform. Instead, each part of the app uses its own algorithms, classifiers, and processes to “make the most of people’s time” (and that of its investors) and the different ways people use Instagram.
For example, Instagram says that people tend to look for their closest friends in Stories, use Explore to discover new content and creators, and “be entertained” in Reels. Instagram ranks things differently in each part of the app and has features like Close Friends, Favorites, and Following to make it easier to customize your experience.
Your Feed is your personalized “home base” on Instagram, designed to show you a mixture of content from the accounts you’ve chosen to follow, recommended content from accounts Instagram “thinks” you’ll enjoy, and ads. You’ll get a little bit of everything on Instagram here, with a mixture of videos, photos, and carousels — and the most algorithms to determine the content you’ll interact with are at play on your Feed.
In addition to recent posts from people you do follow, you’ll see posts from accounts you don’t follow but that Instagram thinks you’ll be interested in based on various factors, including what and who you’ve followed, liked, or engaged with recently.
Instagram says that it tries to strike a balance between these two, so you’re not only seeing recommended posts, and you’re not only seeing only posts from accounts you already follow.
The platform takes all the information it has about what was posted, the people who made those posts, and your preferences (including format) into consideration. For example, if Instagram notices that you interact more with photos, it will show you photos more often.
Instagram calls these “signals,” and there are thousands of them: everything from when a post was shared to whether you’re using a phone or the web to how often you like videos. The most important signals across Feed, ranked in order of importance by Instagram, are:
- Your activity; posts you’ve liked, shared, saved, or commented on.
- Information about those posts; how many people have liked it, commented, etc., and when and where it was posted.
- Your history of interacting with someone, whether or not this post is from someone you seem interested in seeing content from, based on (as an example) commenting on each other’s posts or other interactions.
From there, the Instagram algorithm makes predictions, such as how likely you are to interact with a post in multiple ways, such as liking and commenting. That mainly consists of how likely you are to spend a few seconds on a post, comment on it, like it, share it, and tap on the profile photo. The more likely you are to take multiple actions on a post, the higher up in the Feed that post will appear.
Stories are meant to share “everyday moments” with people and things you already care about. The content here will be Stories from people you’ve chosen to follow and, of course, ads. Instagram ranks Stories (excluding ads) shared by accounts you follow and looks at signals, including:
- Viewing history; how often you look at an account’s stories.
- Engagement history; how often you engage with that account, such as likes or sending direct messages.
- Closeness; how likely you are to be connected as family or friends.
Based on that information, Instagram predicts the Stories you’ll find most relevant and are most likely to interact with and will show you those Stories first.
Exploring Instagram with the Algorithm
Explore exists to help you discover new things on Instagram, with the grid consisting of recommendations from accounts you don’t yet follow. Instagram looks at posts you’ve liked, saved, shared, and commented on in the past to find photos and videos it thinks you’ll be interested in based on that criteria.
Once again, the best way for Instagram to guess how interested you’ll be in something is to predict how likely you are to interact with the post. The actions it most prioritizes are likes, saves, and shares, and the most important signals it looks at, in order of importance, are:
- Information about the post; how popular a post seems to be (likes, comments, shares, etc.)
- Your activity in Explore; posts you’ve interacted with in Explore in the past so it can recommend more posts like that.
- Your history of interacting with the person who posted; if this is someone you’ve interacted with before.
- Information about the person who posted, how often they post, how many times people have interacted with their content recently, etc.
Most of the content you’ll see in Explore will be from people you don’t follow, but Instagram takes content and people you’re already interested in into account when finding new content to recommend to you.
How Does the Instagram Algorithm for Reels work?
Like Explore, much of what you see on Reels will be from accounts you don’t follow but with more of an emphasis on entertainment. The algorithms for ranking content to show you on Reels is similar to those used in Explore, with predictions focused more on how likely you are to reshare a reel and watch it all the way through. The most important signals here are:
- Your activity; reels you’ve liked, saved, reshared, etc.
- Your history of interacting with the person who posted, if applicable.
- Information about the reel; popularity, and the audio/visuals used, if applicable.
- Information about the person who posted, their number of followers, level of engagement from viewers, etc.
How to Influence What You See — Gaming the Instagram Algorithm
How you use Instagram, naturally, influences what you see and don’t see. By interacting with the profiles and content you enjoy, you’re helping to improve your own experience on the platform.
To further curate your experience, adding accounts to your Favorites list, selecting your Close Friends (upon which Stories relies heavily), and muting or unfollowing accounts you’re not interested are all tools available to “teach” Instagram what you do and do not want to see.
Fill out surveys when Instagram asks if this content is relevant. Indicate “Not Interested” on a recommended post that you don’t like so Instagram can learn not to show you further content like it. You can also hide suggested posts containing captions with words, phrases, or emojis you don’t want to see.
“Shadowbanning” and Account Status
Shadowbanning is a term that many have heard but may not fully understand what is meant. While the term can encompass many things, it generally refers to a user’s account or content being limited or hidden without a clear explanation. The Instagram algorithm defavors or hides content from shadowbanned accounts entirely.
“It’s in our interest as a business to ensure that creators are able to reach their audiences and get discovered so they can continue to grow and thrive on Instagram. If there is an audience that is interested in what you share, then the more effectively we help that audience see your content, the more they will use our platform,” the company explains.
“While we’ve heard some people believe you need to pay for ads to achieve better reach, we don’t suppress content to encourage people to buy ads. It’s a better business to make Instagram more engaging overall by growing reach for those who create the most engaging content and sell ads to others.”
That said, Instagram created its Account Status feature to help users with Creator status or business accounts to understand better why their content may not be eligible to be recommended. It allows users to delete any content affecting their account and appeal any decisions made regarding their account. Of course, content in violation of Instagram’s Terms of Service will not be eligible for recommendation
“We want people and creators to be in control of their Instagram experience, and we’re always exploring ways to add even more transparency and control to the app,” the company concludes before adding that providing more context on content ranking and moderation is “only part of the equation” and that Instagram will continue to provide ranking updates as their systems evolve.